Nichiren and the Supreme Being

To deal with this subject properly, I feel a great deal of background information is required. However, as I suspect that this topic holds little to no interest for most readers, it’s been heavily edited. I hope it makes sense. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while now and needed to get it out and done with.

All designations are meaningless when viewed from the ultimate truth. However, we cannot live in the ultimate at all times. In the several recent posts, I have used the terms “own-power” (jiriki) and “other-power” (tariki) which are relative terms that help us distinguish from two separate approaches to Buddhist practice, one where enlightenment is sought from without, and the other, where it is sought within.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Nichiren, the 13th century Japanese teacher who founded the sect that bears his name, hated Pure Land Buddhism. With a passion. He was not fond of the other Buddhist sects of his day either, his chief criticism being that they have “gone astray concerning the true object of worship.” (Kaimoku Sho/”Opening of the Eyes”)

Despite his severe criticism of Pure Land, Nichiren crafted a form of Buddhism that was nearly identical, the only differences being the chant and the central Buddha.

According to Nichiren, the True Object of Worship for Mappo (the Latter Day of the Law) is the Gohonzon, which usually refers to the hanging scrolls Nichiren inscribed, a sort of a dharma-mandala that depicts a scene from the Lotus Sutra entirely in Chinese and Siddham characters. The scene is commonly referred to as The Ceremony in the Air where the “historical” Shakyamuni Buddha, having revealed himself as original, eternal Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment in the unimaginably distant past, transfers the true teaching to the bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth.

The Gohonzon is presented variously as a picture of the Ceremony in the Air, symbolizing the Tendai principle of ichinen sanzen (three thousand realms in a single moment of thought), or as representing the enlightened life of the Buddha from the sutra, and, thereby, our innate Buddha nature. The Soka Gakkai explains that the Gohonzon, “was created by Nichiren as the physical embodiment, in the form of a mandala, of the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The phrase “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren” is written in bold characters down the center of the scroll.”

Regardless of the explanation, in modern Nichiren Buddhism, there is always the caveat that the Object of Worship is not separate from the life of the individual. Two famous quotes are often used to substantiate this point, one about never seeking the teachings of the Buddha outside yourself, the other says never seek the Gohonzon outside of yourself. Both quotes come from works that objective scholars doubt are authentic Nichiren writings. With this in mind, it seems there has been a concentrated effort to align Nichiren’s teachings with the jiriki approach, although that may not have been Nichiren’s original thinking.

There is perhaps another way of looking at the Object of Worship, one that is more in line with Other-power, and therefore, because Nichiren accepted all the tenants associated with tariki, a viewpoint that is quite reasonable to assume.

Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren (Gohonzon Shu)
Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren (Gohonzon Shu)

In one sense, it is incorrect to say that Nichiren “created” the Gohonzon because he viewed it as a other-worldly thing that moved through him, not from him. For Nichiren, the Gohonzon has always existed. He claimed that previous Buddhist teachers such as Nagarjuna, Vasabhandu, and T’ien-t’ai knew of the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, but as he says in Kanjin no Honzon Sho (“The True Object of Worship”),

[They] did not put Nam-myoho-renge-kyo into actual practice or establish the true object of worship . . . Now is when the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear in this country and establish the supreme object of worship on the earth which depicts Shakyamuni Buddha of the essential teaching attending the true Buddha. This object of worship has never appeared in India or China . . . Thus, the revelation of the true object of worship has been entrusted only to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. They have been waiting for the right time to emerge from the earth and carry out the Lord Buddha’s command.”

The Gohonzon could be established only during the Latter Day of the Law, the degenerate age when faith and not understanding matters and other-power alone is potent, and only Nichiren as Jogyo, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, could at last reveal its presence.

A number of Japanese scholars whose books were translated into English or who wrote English books in the early part of the last century used the term “Supreme Being” as a translation of honzon or “object of worship”. The most notable example is Masaharu Anesaki’s Nichiren the Buddhist Prophet, in which Kanjin no Honzon Sho is rendered as “Spiritual Introspection of the Supreme Being”, and throughout the book refers to Nichiren’s scroll as the Supreme Being.

The question is, was this was intentional? Did Anesaki mean to refer to some sort of supreme being, or was this just an attempt to convey the concept of object of worship into a term that Westerners at the time could easily understand?

One Nichiren school, Nichiren Shu, even today translates Kanjin no Honzon Sho as “Spiritual Introspection of the Supreme Beings” (note how it is plural).

Japanese Civilization by Kishio Satomi, published in 1923, an introduction to Nichirenism, has a chapter entitled “The Supreme Being” (Hommon Honzon) . In Satomi’s explanation, the Sacred Title (Daimoku: Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo) is considered as the religious subject, while the Supreme Being is considered as the religious object.

Satomi writes,

‘Hon’ means origin and ‘zon’ means augustness or supremacy. The innate supreme substance is the first definition, the second is the radical adoration, and the third is the genuine or natural respect. All these are slightly different expressions of the Supreme Being and its aspects.

There are two kinds of Supreme Beings in general. The one has the abstract principle as its religious object, while the other has a concrete idea of personality or person itself as its object of worship. In this connection, Nichiren has both simultaneously. According to [Nichiren], Buddha Shakyamuni is the only savior in the world, therefore we must have Him as our own object of worship.

Thus he founded two kinds of Supreme Being, the object of worship. . . the Buddha centric Supreme Being and the Law centric one.”

I should mention that “Buddha Shakyamuni” in this context does not mean the historical Buddha, but the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha revealed in the Lotus Sutra. The two are not quite the same.

Satomi continues,

However high and sublime the Supreme Being may be, if we ourselves do not enter the ideal of it, and do not realize in our own lives its principle and form, it is just an idol and our existence is worthless.”

According to Satomi, the Gohonzon includes all forms of worship, such as “demon-worship in the Mother of Demons, great mandala worship in Tendai, etc. . . god-man-worship in Shakyamuni. . . [worship of] the Four Great Devas. . . Sun-Goddess. . . Hachiman and ancestor worship. . . etc., etc.”

Satomi discusses the presence of both pantheistic and monotheistic elements in Mahayana Buddhism and concludes that none of the various schools have a foundation on which to “unite these opposite tendencies.”

Nichirenism is the answer to this problem. . . According to [Nichiren] thought, the Primeval or Fundamental Buddha, whose deep sense of His existence is explained in Chapter XVI in the Scripture, as we have mentioned already, is unique and sole God in the Universe, and all the beings and all the divines and sages are nothing but His distributive bodies.”

This explanation is in accord with Nichiren’s claim that all the native Shinto gods were merely manifestations of this primeval, fundamental, Eternal Buddha. This entity is then recognized as the “sole and highest existence.” And as I read it, the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon itself, the Gohonzon is the Eternal Buddha, not in a merely noumenal sense, but as a phenomenal reality.

What makes me feel that Anesaki and Satomi might have had the right idea about the Eternal Buddha as a Supreme Being? A Sanskrit term: svadi-devata.

Anesaki references Nichiren’s “Supreme Being” to this term.  I found svadi-devata in the Soothill Dictionary of Buddhist Terms. Evidently use of this term in Buddha-dharma is limited to the Nichiren tradition. Here is the definition: The especial honored one of the Nichiren sect, svadi-devata, the Supreme Being, whose mandala is considered as the symbol of the Buddha that as infinite, eternal, universal. . .”

“Daivata” is a variation of “devata”–daivata ganah, classes of divinities; sadaivata, together with the deities, Parama-daivata, highly devoted to the god, and so on. Devata refers to a more personal relationship with a deity, such as a guardian spirit, or more tightly focused upon a deity, and with sva pertaining to “own, etc.” It would seem that svadi-devata indicates a personal relationship with a deity or object of worship.

Nichiren frequently used Indian terms and he knew Siddham. Clearly, he viewed the Gohonzon as more than a scroll or mandala.  It was the enlightened life of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and therefore the ultimate reality.  Whether or not he saw it in terms of svadi-devata, a personal deity, is questionable but nonetheless within the realm of possibility.

Very little has been written in English about tantric influences on Nichiren’s thinking, but certainly Nichiren would had some Shingon influences, not to mention the fact that by this time Tendai, the school he trained in, had a distinct tantric flavor. It is also quite possible he was familiar with the tantric Vajra-sattva (“Diamond Being”) and this served as his model for the Supreme Being/Eternal Buddha.

Shashi Bhushan Dasgupta in Introduction to Tantric Buddhism writes,

Who is then the Vajra-sattva? He is the Being of adamantine substance—the ultimate principal as the unity of the universe . . . the fundamental departure of the Tantric Buddhists is that. . . it may have been sometimes described as a Being—sometimes as the personal God, the Lord Supreme.”

The characteristics that Nichiren ascribes to the Eternal Buddha in the Kanjin no Honzon Sho and elsewhere, are not drastically different from the descriptions given of the Vajra-sattva in Tantric literature.

Here is Anesaki’s translation of two excerpts of a Nichiren writing, Shoho Jisso, “The True Aspect of All Phenomena”:

I, Nichiren, a man born in the ages of the Latter Law, have nearly achieved the task of pioneership in propagating the Perfect Truth, the task assigned to the Bodhisattva of Superb Action (Vishishtachiritra) The eternal Buddhahood of Shakyamuni, as he revealed himself in the chapter on Life-duration, in accordance with his primeval entity, the Buddha Prabhutaratna, who appeared in the Heavenly Shrine . . .

In this document, the truths most precious to me are written down. Read, and read again; read into the letters and fix them into your mind ! Thus put faith in the Supreme Being, represented in a way unique in the whole world! Ever more strongly I advise you to be firm in faith, and to be under the protection of the threefold Buddhahood.”

Here are the same excerpts from the Soka Gakkai version, “The True Entity of Life”:

Although not worthy of the honor, Nichiren was nevertheless the first to spread the Mystic Law entrusted to Bodhisattva Jogyo for propagation in the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren was also the first to inscribe the Gohonzon, which is the embodiment of the Buddha from the remote past as revealed in the Juryo chapter of the essential teaching . . .

In this letter, I have written my most important teachings. Grasp their meaning and make them part of your life. Believe in the Gohonzon, the supreme object of worship in the world. Forge strong faith and receive the protection of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas.”



8 thoughts on “Nichiren and the Supreme Being

  1. Thanks David. This was an interesting read. I hadnt considered this angle. as far as I know all mahayana schools teach that they are self power in nature and yet this is hard to understand at times, particularly with Nicherinism.

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Steve. The two guys I mentioned in the post Anesaki and Satomi make a real point of stressing how the Supreme Being is not outside of the individual, but I don’t really buy it. I am slowly coming to the opinion that all Japanese Buddhism from the Kamakura period were other-power. Anyway, it just goes to show, as the Dalai Lama likes to say, you have to kind of sniff around from behind like a dog sometimes to find out what’s what.

  2. Based on dhammapada, and 4 noble truths, It would seem buddha is suggesting it is all in one’s self reach, no external factors – thus pointing to self-power. Otherwise, the objective of 4 noble truths, end of suffering(or nirvana), being under one’s ability alone (i.e, in one’s control 100%), wouldn’t make sense. “Other” cant be a factor. It has to be 100% one’s self.

    That said, we may be talking about 2 separate things. The aspect i discussed above is one thing.

    The other aspect is the concept of “catalyst” or “force” that one can cultivate , which accelerates one’s journey. Personally, I use “karma” for this, which is purely “inner” (being in one’s control) – I would argue this is more logical. Others may use “outer” catalysts like intense bhakti (faith) , or external powers, as “motivators”. These are just that, “motivators”/catalysts. Either way(karma, or external power), the objective is to cultivate one’s inner tendencies (“forces”) , that would put one strongly on the path of “dharma” (only which, leads to nirvana). This aspect of internal(“karma”) or external(“outer powers”) do not themselves grant one the ultimate salvation. They are just tools or ways. In themselves they dont really mean anything. What matters is how effectively one is perfecting their “inner” forces (this i call karma)).

    External powers can be powerful catalysts/motivators, and so can inner powers, if not more. It is all about Aspect #1, though.

  3. @red: I tend to think this whole issue is more about aspect #2 — I know almost nothing about Nichiren, so this is coming from more of a Pure Land perspective, but the whole issue of other power and faith in the Pure Land is coming from a concern for establishing the appropriate karmic conditions for future practice.

    On the main topic, I think the section of the Lotus Sutra where the Buddha answers Ajita’s question about what the heck is going on with the aeons of hidden-in-the-earth bodhisattvas and the Buddha’s immeasurable lifespan is really interesting:

    “Because the Tathagata perceives all the marks of the triple world as they really are: that there is no birth and death, coming or going; that there is also no existence or extinction in the world, truth or falsehood, sameness or difference. The Tathagata does not view the triple world as sentient beings in the triple world see it. The Tathagata perceives such things clearly and without mistakes. Since sentient beings have various natures, desires, behaviors, thoughts, and distinctions, the Tathagata, wanting to cause them to plant roots of good merit, has explained various teachings through a variety of examples, explanations, and illustrations. He has not desisted from doing Buddha acts even for a single moment and in this way it has been an extremely long time since I attained Buddhahood.”

    Basically he is reframing the prajna-paramita / Heart Sutra doctrine of emptiness to say that causality is not about individual life or individual phenomena at all, but it is about the results of practice — implying that since you have the Buddha nature, if you are expressing it through your deeds then you are the Buddha — not conventionally, but in a sense that’s actually more true. In Pure Land practice, we would say “true emptiness is wondrous existence,” or “self-power is other-power.” But who knows, it seems like the standard Pure Land stuff didn’t exactly excite Nichiren, so maybe there’s still another layer of debate happening here.

  4. To show that Nichiren intended for the Gohonzon to be an other-power object of worship, I would expect to find at least one statement attributable to him in this regard. Instead, after reviewing the writings of Nichiren that have been translated in English, what I see is a fairly well balanced “teacher and self-practice harmony” kind of approach, rather than one that sits at either of the self-power or other-power extremes.

    The quotes you referenced, and dismissed as unauthentic, are not the only ones supporting a view other than primarily “tariki.” The following is a quote from The Major Writings (v. 2, p.236-237) that reflects both “jiriki” and “tariki” in a kind of middle ground:

    “The jigage, the verse section of the chapter [16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra] states, ‘Single-mindedly yearning to see the Buddha, they do not begrudge their lives.’ I, Nichiren, have called forth Buddhahood from within my life by living this sentence.”

    After mentioning on the same page that Dengyo learned in China that “mind,” as referenced in “single mindedly,” indicates all phenomenon and existence, Nichiren clarifies,

    “‘Single mindedly yearning to see the Buddha’ also means to see the Buddha in one’s own mind, to concentrate one’s mind on seeing the Buddha, and that to see ones own mind is to see the Buddha. I have attained the eternally inherent three properties of life… The Buddha states that one should become the master of his mind rather than let his mind master him. This is why I have emphatically urged you to be willing to give up your body and your life for the sake of the Lotus Sutra”

    According to these passages, Nichiren encouraged his followers to see the Buddha within (jiriki) and to also follow the Buddha’s instructions in the Lotus Sutra (tariki) and his example (tariki).

    There is another passage from the Major Writings with a similar orientation, but it takes the matter to another level. In Volume 7, on page 73, Nichiren favorably references T’ien-t’ai’s depiction of the practice this way:

    “When the bodhisattvas seat themselves on the lotus, this is the lotus of the cause. But the lotus of the Buddha that one bows before in reverence is the lotus of the effect. Or, if we go by the wording of the Hokke ron, this is the lotus that is the realm produced as a mystic result. That is, the bodhisattvas, by practicing the Law of the lotus, are as a result able to obtain the lotus of the realm. Thus we should understand that the objective realm and the subjective being who depends upon it, the cause (the bodhisattva) and the effect (which is the Buddha), are all the law of the renge or lotus.”

    Prior to quoting this passage from T’ien-t’ai, Nichiren explained on pp. 65-66 that

    “… the supreme principle (that is the Mystic Law) was originally without a name. When the sage was observing the principal and assigning names to all things, he perceived that there was this wonderful single Law (myoho) which simultaneously possesses both cause and effect (renge), and he named it Myoho-renge. This single Law that is Myoho-renge comprises within it all phenomena comprising the Ten Worlds and the three-thousand realms, and is lacking in none of them. Anyone who practices this Law will obtain both the cause and the effect of Buddhahood simultaneously.”

    (Occasionally in your posts, it is suggested that writings attributed to Nichiren’s are not actually his writings, but created by followers to sound like Nichiren’s. If this is asserted, I would appreciate cites to your sources.)

    Based on these last two passages from the Volume 7, I believe it can be reasonably argued that a practice to the Gohonzon is on one level, an other-power type of practice. After all, novice bodhisattvas are completely dependent upon a Buddha at the initial stages of practice for their wisdom. Yet, I believe the last passage cited also suggests that the “tariki” relationship dissolves in the a context of a Law in which Buddhahood occurs at the very moment of that relationship. The bodhisattvas are then to continue on with their practice to metaphorically blossom as the lotus of the realm.

    Perhaps, also, the above depiction in Volume 7 is what is referred to as “duality premised upon non-duality,” where the Buddha and the common mortal are initially considered essentially one as there are no difference between the realities of this world and the ultimate realm of Myoho-Renge. From there, any perceived differences need to cleansed through practice. This is in contrast to the “Other Power” school associated with Honen, which holds that the dualistic realties of this world are impossible to reconcile. One needs to, therefore, abandon all attempts at self reliance to resolve the distinction between living a good life and experiencing suffering by giving it up to Amida for salvation in the Pure Land, where the distinction is not so great. (These thoughts were based on a reading of pages 85 to 93 of a book written by J. I. Stone entitled “Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism.”

    Now, I would like to discuss the suggestion that it was Nichiren’s intention to make the Gohonzon into a “Supreme Being,” so that faith-based devotees might consider it to be like a theistic God with the power to bestow a form of Amida Buddha Pure Land on earth. (Or, at least I think this is what you have suggested by saying in this post that “Despite his severe criticism of Pure Land, Nichiren crafted a form of Buddhism that was nearly identical…” Also, in your April 21, 2015 sister post entitled “The Buddhism of Faith,” you described a “… kind of faith that is belief in supernatural beings who offer help and salvation to human beings” and ask “Is faith-based Buddhism authentic dharma?”)

    As you point out, the Gohonzon is based on key sections of the Lotus Sutra. In terms of passages in the Lotus Sutra upon which the idea of a “Supreme Being” is founded, I would suggest consideration of the following quotes from The Threefold Lotus Sutra (p. 251). These passages are presented right after the Buddha revealed that he had not attained enlightenment under the proverbial Bodhi tree outside the city of Gaya, but had actually attained enlightenment infinite lifetimes previously.

    “Beholding the propensity of all the living toward lower things, so that they have little virtue and much vileness, to these men the Tathagata declares: ‘In my youth I left home and attained Perfect Enlightenment.’ But since I veritably became Buddha, thus have I ever been, and thus I have made declaration, only by my tactful methods to teach and transform all living beings, so that they may enter the way of the Buddha”

    “… the Tathagata knows and sees the character of the triple world as it really is: [to him] there is neither birth nor death, or going away or coming forth; neither living nor dead; neither reality nor unreality; neither thus or otherwise.”

    “Thus it is, since I became Buddha in the very far distant past, [that my] lifetime is of infinite asamkhyeya kalpas, forever existing and immortal.”

    Sangharakshita in the Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment (p. 202) comments about these passages as follows:

    “This is his great revelation to his disciples, to the assembly, to humanity, of his eternal life, of the fact that in truth he transcends time; and with this revelation the sutra is lifted from the plane of time up into the plane of eternity. It is not now Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, speaking but the Buddha principle.”

    What therefore is this Buddha principle? I believe, if you accept Sangharakshita’s conclusions, it is an “omnibenevolent Being free of delusion who eternally strives for the enlightenment of others.” If one believes the Gohonzon embodies this Buddha or the original Buddha (the Buddha of the True Cause) as Nichiren distinguished himself, the phrase “Supreme Being,” and the “concrete idea of personality or person” that Satomi attributes to the Gohonzon are justifiable extensions of this revelation.

    This is definitely a belief in a literal interpretation of the above passages from the Lotus Sutra and most definitely reflects your casting of “a kind of faith that is belief in supernatural beings who offer help and salvation to human beings.” The Buddha principle of the Lotus Sutra, however, was never depicted as a “Supreme Being” with an omniscient power to unilaterally distribute heavenly salvation to those he deemed worthy. Rather, he was someone, who used all tactful means (which does not explicitly preclude any form of supernaturalism) at his disposal to “teach and transform all living beings” into enlightened individuals.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that it is a mistake to think that supernaturalism in any form makes it simpler to embrace and continue with a practice, thus accounting for, as you have suggested, the proliferation of sects today that believe in supernatural Buddhism. To the contrary, for the initiate it spins a complex web of reason-defying principles to accept before they can believe. For example, one must believe the Buddha lives eternally, the Buddha is free of delusion and defilements, and the Buddha’s life can be transferred into an object of worship. Similarly, for those who grow up in families who embrace a supernatural practice, they will eventually go to school, learn critical thinking, and hopefully become mature, sound-minded adults. As a result, like children who eventually realize that Santa Claus is a myth perpetrated by their parents to encourage them to be good boys and girls, they should, it seems to me, eventually be naturally repulsed by religious organizations and leaders who continue to insist that their brand of supernaturalism is true. This does not seem to me like a formula for expansion, but instead one for continuous contraction.

    Ultimately, though, I do not see a major distinction between a supernatural and a rationalistic approach to Buddhism. Although I prefer a rationalistic approach, I would not suggest that those who have faith in a literal interpretation of teachings like the Buddha principle, or the Gohonzon is a “Supreme Being” are wrong. In this regard, please consider the following comparison:

    The Buddha principle view:

    The Gohonzon is an omnibenevolent Being free of delusion who eternally strives for the enlightenment of others.

    A rational interpretation of the myth:

    The Gohonzon is the representation of the primary source for the highest form of compassion, accessible at every moment in the realm of the potential.

    The first approach is supernatural and the second is reason-based. In both examples, however, the Gohonzon is described in a way that provides each class of individuals, so inclined, the option of gaining trust in it, and appreciation for it, so they will be more likely to continue practicing and thereby attain full enlightenment.

    Furthermore, please consider the following conclusion to an essay entitled “Beyond True and False” by Graham Priest: , in which he discusses logic applied to Buddhist thinking:

    “This number [ordinal numbers that extend counting beyond the finite], then, both can and cannot be referred to. That’s our paradox. And since it cannot be referred to, one cannot say anything about it. So the facts about it are ineffable; but we can say things about it, such as that it is the least ordinal that can’t be referred to. We have said ineffable things.”

    Whether one believes in a literal interpretation of the Gohonzon as a supernatural entity or holds a completely rationalist perspective about it, the fact that the Gohonzon is or is not responsible for enlightening anyone, or is actually the Buddha’s enlightened life, may very well be beyond expression and proof. Nevertheless, we are at liberty to describe the inexpressible to the best of our ability, which is essentially what the Buddha was depicted to have done at the culmination of the Ceremony in the Air in the Lotus Sutra and what Nichiren is believed to have done by inscribing his life into the Gohonzon. The difference, therefore, is that the literalist holds the inexpressible to have been actually expressed in the Gohonzon, while the rationalist believes that the Buddha and Nichiren Daishonin did their best to express the ineffable. Is this such a big difference?

    In conclusion, it is my belief that there is no inherent reason for supernatural literalists and rational secularists to experience a different result from practicing with the Gohonzon. The literalist may not be practicing with the meaning of the Gohonzon in mind, but they are able to practice with deep reverence and faith in an object of worship they believe is the eternally-existent all compassionate Buddha. They may say “The Gohonzon gave me this” and, in my view, it may not be the correct way of looking at it, but who am I to judge the validity of their conclusions? What is important is that they feel this practice has enhanced their life, by virtue of seeing the Buddha’s compassion in it, and are confident the practice will lead to an end they believe deserves a life long commitment of faith and practice.

    As you mentioned, “Nam-myoho-renge kyo Nichiren” is written in bold characters down the center of the Gohonzon. Nam-myoho-renge kyo means devotion to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra. As I previously indicated, a rational interpretation of the Gohonzon may be expressed as “the manifestation of the primary source for the highest form of compassion, accessible at every moment in the realm of the potential,” which is essentially “myoho-renge.”

    The “the primary source for the highest form of compassion” is not necessarily a “Person” or a cosmic force of nature flowing through all life forms for eternity. It may also be viewed as a concept, with meaning and purpose, conveyed through the calligraphy of the Gohonzon. This meaning of ultimate compassion does not exist outside of the past, present and future, but rather can reside at every moment in the unformed reality of the “realm of the potential.” From there, it can naturally materialize (wisdom-like) at the most beneficial time and place. If it is the correct object of worship, it should be able to, not only help purify the mind and senses, but also assist in shaping a highly compassionate and wise individual. It does not have to be a “Supreme Being” or the Gohonzon that is responsible for these results. Rather, it may also be the result of the power of ones prayers in conjunction with a focus on an object of worship that is essentially designed for that end.

    In a way, it is very unfortunate that Nichiren’s name has become synonymous in many circles with an over-simplified and extremist brand of Buddhism. Although some of the criticism about Nichiren and the sects derived from him are deserved, the Gohonzon itself does not label anyone a slanderer or represent “Nichiren the Original Face of Buddhist Terror” as you wrote about Nichiren in your July 2013 post. Rather, it has the potential to be a reliable senior partner for the enlightenment of anyone who chooses to embrace it, working with them at their own pace and in their current life condition. Also, when the myths it holds are thoughtfully translated into contemporary concepts, it can serve as a viable alternative to the embellishments, contradictions, mysticism, and complexities of the Buddha’s ancient manner of teaching.

    On my basic website, for anyone interested, I offer a template for Silent Prayers that reflect these secular inclinations, to be read with the recitation of the Second and Sixteenth chapters of the Lotus Sutra to a properly enshrined Gohonzon.

    Here is the url:

    1. Thanks, John for your response. There is quite a lot here to digest and too much to reply to comprehensively. I am not sure I know what your main point is, though. You seem to be saying that Nichiren’s Buddhism is sometimes jiriki and sometimes tariki, which I think is valid. I think Nichiren’s view of the dharma he was propagating changed over the years, and at times he is a bit inconsistent, saying one thing and then saying something almost completely different, even occasionally within the same writing.

      I don’t have a vested interest in proving anything, especially whether or not Nichiren’s Buddhism is one thing or the other. I think in the beginning it was other-power oriented. What I mean by saying it was “nearly identical” to Pure Land is that both have the same basic elements: faith, a title or name to chant, and a supermundane Buddha to center on (Eternal Shakyamuni/Amida). In regards to what I wrote in the post about Nichiren and a Supreme Being, it was mostly speculation on my part, although I feel there is some compelling reasons to take the matter into consideration.

      As far as the authenticity of Nichiren’s writings are concerned, my primary source is the one you cite, “Original Enlightenment” by Jackie Stone. She also has a piece in “Buddhism in Practice” edited by Donald Lopez that discusses the subject of authenticity. There are some other sources that I don’t recall off-hand but I have in the past simply Googled a gosho by its title to determine whether or not scholar feel it is an authentic Nichiren writing or not.

      It was quite common throughout all the various Buddhist traditions for later followers to write treatises and ascribed the authorship to the founder of the tradition. It was done in the spirit of paying a homage to a great teacher and not to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
      Again, thanks for your well written response.

  5. I like your capacity of reasoning, but as in all the blogs/sites similar to yours there is a fundamental flaw: not living in Japan and/or not being proficient in the japanese language limits knowledge and source of information to the very approximative English sites. This translates in pro/contra SG and several urban legends that flourished in the past decades. Personally I do research on the extant Nichiren mandalas and am hence not concerned with sectarian issues (you can find my books on if you’re interested in the subject). Nichiren Buddhism is probably more nuanced than explained in sectarian groups, but so is every other religion on this planed. Anyway I admire the capacity of logic that is missing so much in Japan. In any case there are a few interesting article available for download on the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies also about SG vs. Others issues.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I am not sure living in Japan would change much, however being able to read the numerous Japanese texts on Nichiren would certainly broaden one’s knowledge. I don’t claim to be a scholar, but I think I have sufficient experience in Nichirenism and Buddhism in general to speculate in this area, and that is mainly what this post is, speculation. Interesting last name, Mandara, being the English spelling for the Japanese translation of mandala.

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